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April 24th, 2015

VoIPGeneral_Apr24_AIt has been a long time coming, but WhatsApp has finally introduced free voice calling - at least for Android users. The free calls, which work between WhatsApp users and operate on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform in the same way as those on Skype, are now available to all WhatsApp users on Android, following a slow invite-only release program. Here’s what you need to know; how to enable this capability and a trap to watch out for.

WhatsApp’s plan for the introduction of voice calling was first announced by its CEO Jan Koum in February 2014, and was due to have been available by last October. However, technical problems delayed the release until the first quarter of this year. When the voice calling feature did arrive, it was subject to a slow and somewhat complex invite-only rollout program whereby, unless you were personally selected by WhatsApp to try it first, you could only access voice calling if you had a friend with existing access who then called you with it. After taking their call, the feature was unlocked on your app and you could use it to call others too. The latest move to make the feature available to all users means no invite is now required.

To take advantage of the voice calling option, make sure you have downloaded at least version 2.12.5 of the free app from the Google Play store. Within the app’s Calls tab, tap the phone icon in the top right-hand corner. Select from the list of available contacts - which only includes those also setup with WhatsApp voice calling, and therefore for now only those on Android - and you’re off! iOS users need to wait a little longer, though WhatsApp founder Brian Acton has promised the feature is on the way in the near future (the voice calling button has been spotted in the latest release of WhatsApp for iPhone, but has yet to be activated). Yet an unofficial Cydia tweak known as WhatsApp Call Enabler makes this possible now, if not exactly recommended, on jailbroken iPhones.

Those eagerly anticipating the arrival of WhatsApp’s voice calling feature should be on their guard against attempts to prey on that enthusiasm. A number of phony messages are currently circulating on WhatsApp, by email and on the web, inviting users to click a link to activate voice calling within the app. Since no additional download is required to access voice calling - and indeed activating the capability this way is not possible - clicking the link will not achieve the desired outcome, and will instead leave you vulnerable to unintentionally installing malicious software and spreading the malware further.

Since its launch in 2009, WhatsApp has become a hugely popular instant messaging app worldwide. The platform now boasts 700 million active monthly users, and claims to handle 30 billion messages each and every day. Prior to the introduction of voice calling, the app’s use was limited to sending and receiving text messages, images and short sound recordings - meaning that a conversation of sorts was still technically possible by sending recordings back and forth, albeit in a more long-winded manner. But the implementation of live voice calling puts it on a par with the likes of Skype, and makes it more likely that VoIP will become mobile users’ preferred means of placing a call.

That is something which other apps have arguably failed to do on a large scale - despite Skype and others having long been mobile compatible - since the majority of mobile users still opt to make regular calls unless doing so is prohibitively expensive, for example to overseas. Provided it can get the user experience right and make the process of placing a call so intuitive that it becomes as natural feeling as it currently does to phone someone the old-fashioned way, WhatsApp could be about to tip that balance and make VoIP huge.

Want to learn how to implement VoIP in your business - whether on your office or cell phones - to cut costs and increase mobility and productivity? Give us a call and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP General
April 23rd, 2015

164_Virt_AThere’s no question about it, powering your IT equipment costs money. But the real question is just how much money? If you’ve never taken the time to run the numbers, you may be in for a big surprise. That’s why we’ve compiled four questions you need to ask yourself when you’re considering virtualization.

Studies have shown that over 70% of IT budgeting is put towards simply “keeping the lights on.” If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is. You’re likely spending thousands of dollars powering your IT equipment and paying your staff to manage it. And the truth is that it just doesn’t have to be that way. Virtualization can eliminate all those costs for a smoother running solution that you’ll never have to worry about.

So if you’re ready to examine your IT budget and see for yourself, here are 4 questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the cost of your data center?

We’re talking about the whole kit and caboodle: your servers, backup power supplies, air conditioning, security devices, and the overhead costs for the space to store all of this.

2. How much do you spend on cooling your servers?

Keeping your servers cool is a fact of life. Have you ever considered how much this is costing you?

3. How much is being budgeted towards cabling and adapters?

Don’t forget about these. We’re talking about not only the physical cables and adaptors, but also the costs of maintenance.

4. How much does it cost your IT staff to manage these resources?

It takes time for your staff to manage your IT. Time is money.

How does virtualization eliminate these costs? With virtualization you can kiss the data center, servers, cables and adapters goodbye (hello new office space). Instead, we store all your equipment off-site and deliver it to you via the Internet. Your computers and network continue to function normally. The only difference is they’re out of sight and out of mind. This equals lower maintenance costs, fewer overheads, less equipment, and fewer headaches.

And let’s not forget the time it costs to manage all of your IT equipment. With virtualization, we do this for you. This frees up the time of your current IT staff, allowing them to focus on more important things - like your business’s IT strategy and market changes. Better still, you may even have the option to completely eliminate the need for in-house IT staff. How’s that for cost savings?

Ready to make the switch to virtualization? Need more of your questions answered? Let’s talk today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 22nd, 2015

164_Prod_A Do you ever feel like you’re just sludging through the day, moving at a snail’s pace and feeling completely ineffective? Next thing you know, it’s five o’clock and it turns out it wasn’t just a feeling, you barely accomplished anything. So what’s the problem? It might be that you just have some bad habits. Here are a few that may be killing your productivity.

Constantly checking email

This is an obvious one most people already know of, but how many of us actually follow it? The reason it’s a productivity killer is because it destroys your focus. Even worse, constantly checking email has been linked to anxiety, depression, lower performance and even decreased memory function.

To overcome this habit, designate specific times of the day to check your e-mail. For example, first thing in the morning when you wake up, after lunch, and at the end of the work day. This will prevent constant email checking from breaking up your flow while you’re on the clock.

Working long days

It’s 8pm, you’ve already worked 12 hours, but you just want to knock out one more item on your to do list. You’re exhausted, but you tell yourself to push through anyway - even if it takes another hour. How many of us have been here? If it’s more often than not, it may be a good idea to kick this habit as it’s an absolute productivity killer.

Studies have shown that working more than eight hours a day lowers productivity and raises the risk of burnout. The reasoning is simple...mental fatigue. Once you’ve worked a certain number of hours, your focus will be less sharp and your productivity will consequently drop. Which leads us to our next point...

Not getting enough sleep

Rest is essential to maximizing your productivity. And the most essential type of rest you can get is sleep. Research has shown that getting five hours of sleep or less multiple nights in a row has the same effect on you as a 0.10 blood alcohol level. Not only that, but you’ll also suffer from headaches, be mistake-prone and get distracted more easily. Basically you’ll be an unfocused mess.

Working continuously without a break

Studies have shown that you need to take breaks if you want to achieve maximum productivity. This is because a break allows you to rest your brain. Often during a break, you may even come up with new creative solutions to problems. And the best part is that when you return to work, you’ll feel revitalized with a fresh focus and ready to be challenged.

Multitasking

In this day and age, multitasking is often touted as a positive skill. And while this may be true in small bursts, spending hours juggling tasks is a surefire way of lowering productivity. The reason behind this is that switching between tasks causes a loss of focus and creativity. Think of your brain as a computer with a limited amount of RAM. Now what happens when your computer’s RAM is pushed to the max? It usually slows down and doesn’t function as well. Your brain acts in a similar way, the only difference being that you can’t buy more RAM to install in your brain - not yet, at least.

On the contrary, studies have shown that focusing on one task for a larger block of time (don’t forget to throw your break in, though) allows you to boost your productivity and get into a flow with your work. Try it out and you may find yourself accomplishing more tasks than you ever imagined possible.

Interested in learning about more ways to increase productivity? Want to find out how your technology can help? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
April 21st, 2015

BusinessValue_Apr21_AAfter designing your company’s website, writing perfect pitch pages, and driving traffic to landing pages, you finally made a new online sale to a first-purchase customer. This customer has seen the value of your products or services. Why else would they purchase from you? But in addition to a nice increase in revenue, you also received a piece of information that could generate even more income: your customer’s email address. Existing customers, their email addresses, and a good email marketing strategy are all you need to get repeat business. Here are some email marketing tips to retain your customers.

Offer promotional codes

Offer your customers a promotional code that provides a special discount or a freebie on their next purchase. You can place the code in an email as a thank you for your customers’ sign-up or first purchase. Also consider adding an expiration date as a way to monitor whether your customers have used the code or not. Promotional codes are a great tool to express gratitude to your customers, and show that you value their business.

Rewards program

This is one of the simplest email marketing strategies as you can offer anything to make your customers feel special. You could go for a “buy one, get one” promotion or offer an extra month of service after a yearly subscription. If applicable to the nature of your business, you can create points programs for your customers to collect, and they can redeem the points for something afterwards.

Host contests

The purposes of contests are to excite your customers, increase engagement, and increase brand awareness. You will also have the opportunity to find out more about your customers by asking detailed questions as part of the contest entry process. For instance, you could ask them to complete a quick survey about your products or services, giving you ideas for future email campaigns.

Give freebies

Send freebies via emails occasionally, or on your customers’ birthdays. You can give away anything related to your business that your customers will find helpful, such as eBooks, videos, or other tools. Add an expiration date to these freebies to enable you to follow up if they haven’t claimed it.

Send notifications

When you have a new product or service, you can notify every customer on your email list. In addition, when you run promotional codes with expiry dates, rewards programs, or contests, you can send reminder emails to alert your customers, encouraging them to take action on your offers.

Email marketing is best used to retain existing clients. Since it’s much cheaper to retain an existing client than acquire a new one, email marketing is an incredibly cost-effective marketing solution that is well worth a try.

If you’re looking to implement email marketing to improve sales, give us a call today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 20th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Apr20_AUnexpected disasters can completely catch your business off guard, and when they do you’ll have a hard time trying to get things back in order. Most business owners are aware of potential problems, so they usually have a business continuity plan (BCP) already in place. But testing these plans to find loopholes and room for improvements is equally as important as creating one in the first place. That’s why every BCP has an ‘exercise’ phase where the plan is put through a series of trials by the whole company. Here are some tried-and-true procedures.

Set objectives

The first step to any efficient exercise is having clear objectives. Think about the results you want to see at the end of the exercise. These outcomes may include, but are not limited to, IT disaster recovery, evacuation routines, off-site recovery plans, and supplier management. If there are measurable targets that can be put into the equation, then all the better. For instance, meeting a recovery objective after a disaster within x number of hours.

Select the right type of exercise

Essentially there are four levels of exercises, each increasing in complexity and difficulty.
  • A walkthrough - this exercise involves a team meeting to discuss whether the present BCP has everything covered and is up-to-date.
  • Desktop exercise - ideal for new or intermediate teams. A desktop exercise takes place in a room where delegates discuss a fictional scenario delivered via a series of powerpoint presentations. Role-playing and dramatic simulations are not part of this stage of the process.
  • Functional exercise - this level allows employees to perform their duties in a simulated environment. It is designed to exercise specific team members, procedures, and resources in the event of a disaster.
  • Live or real time - this is a full-scale exercise performed in real time with normal business suspended. The aim is to see whether people can do what’s expected of them within a set timescale. A live exercise is often complicated and costly to organize, but will generally ensure a much smoother process if the worst does happen.

Develop a scenario

Take what you’ve learned from the team, the objectives and plan to develop a scenario. Depending on the type of exercise, you should have a scenario tailored to suit your objectives. Be creative when simulating incidents. You may need only two or three to keep your employees busy for a couple of hours - during that time you can monitor their performance.

Prepare employees

Assign a group of representatives responsible for making announcements and preparing conference rooms to relay the plan to employees. Be specific about who in the company are participants, observers, and facilitators for the purposes of the exercise. Explain courses of actions to everyone involved in the plan. Remember, your BCP’s success depends on your employees’ cooperation, so do your best when you’re clarifying the plan.

Run the exercise!

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. After careful planning and scheduling, it’s time to put your plan into action. Make sure you observe the exercise closely and ask yourself these questions: Are there any potential areas that can be improved? What should you do more of, or differently? What went well, and what didn’t? End the exercise with a feedback session where employees can express their opinions and share their ideas.

If you don’t get it right the first time, then go back to the drawing board and schedule another exercise. It only gets better with every practice.

Are you ready even if disaster should strike? Contact us today and we can help you develop a business continuity plan that keeps your company in the game.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 17th, 2015

SocialMedia_Apr13_AMuch attention in the social media marketing world is paid to the heavyweights of Facebook and Twitter - and, when executed properly, your marketing efforts on these networks can pay great dividends. But there is much more to social media marketing than these two platforms alone, and other channels that are on the rise include Pinterest. What’s more, building Pinterest into your social media marketing strategy just got a lot easier, more efficient and more rewarding. Here’s why.

Pinterest recently announced the launch of an updated and improved browser extension that enables users to save content and pin it to their boards. The platform has supported browser extensions like this for several years already, but the latest enhancements reduce the number of clicks needed to pin images and other content to boards. It is also now simpler to track down the specific board you want to pin an image to, or to create a brand new board from within the browser extension if you don’t already have one that fits.

For casual social media users, the Pinterest button that comes with the browser extension makes for a simple way to bookmark content on Pinterest in order to come back to it later. Pinterest itself gives the example of a food blog - while you’re browsing a recipe, you can click the Pinterest button on your browser and in just a couple of clicks save a visual reference to one of your boards. Then where you’re ready to start cooking, you can easily find the image and click it to return to the blog.

But the benefits are there for those of us using social media for business purposes, too. The extension makes it simpler for you to pin both your own content, which users can then share by re-pinning or clicking on find out more on your web site, and for you to pin and share other relevant content from around the web that will be of interest to your prospective customers. Never forget the golden rule of social media marketing, that your profile - on whichever platform - shouldn’t just be a non-stop stream of promotional messages. Social media is different from conventional advertising, and your content should be a blend of subtle promotion and other, non-sales content that is of genuine interest to prospects.

Pinterest is growing in a big way, meaning now is the perfect time to accelerate your marketing efforts on the platform. There are now said to be over 50 billion pieces of content pinned on the site, spanning over a billion boards, and traffic is both growing and moving to mobile devices. In fact, over 80% of the site’s traffic comes from mobile. And while Pinterest has long been considered to be a predominantly female-friendly site, the channel’s popularity with men is growing, and is outpacing the overall growth in the Pinterest user base.

If Pinterest doesn’t already figure in your social media marketing strategy, it’s about time it did. Give us a call to discuss how we can help you propel your social media efforts forward.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
April 16th, 2015

164_A_OffHave you ever needed to scan a document, but not had a scanner on hand? Well just think how convenient it would be if you could use your phone as a scanner instead? If you’re a smartphone owner and regular app user, you’re probably aware of the myriad of apps that can do this. What you may not know is that there’s also a phone app out there that can not only scan a document, but also gives you the ability to edit the scanned text. It’s called Microsoft Office Lens, and now it’s available for iOS and Android. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Microsoft Office Lens?

Microsoft Office Lens is virtually a scanner in your pocket. You snap a picture of anything with text on it, and just like that it’s converted into a scanned document. What separates it from other similar apps out there is its ability to make the scanned text editable as if it were in a Word doc.

Unlike most of the other phone scanning apps, Office Lens automatically detects the borders of the item or document you’re scanning. This means you don’t have to bother lining up the edges of the item with a grid - you just point and shoot. The Lens app then optimizes the picture so that the text is easy to read. It does this by cleaning up shadows and straightening awkward angles. Also, the images you snap are automatically synced to OneNote. This allows you to easily store them, transfer to your other devices or share them later. Additionally, the images can also be saved to MS Word, Powerpoint or PDF. Originally launched in March of 2014, up until now Microsoft Office Lens was only available to Windows Mobile users. This seems a god sent to anyone who has had to rewrite scanned docs to make changes or reformat information.

To give you an idea of some of the items Microsoft Office Lens can scan, check out the list below:

  • business cards
  • billboards
  • receipts
  • invoices
  • notes
  • white boards
  • really anything that has text on it
Why is this cool? Well, imagine you’re at a meeting and there have been a long series of notes written on a white board. Instead of having to scribble all these notes down on a piece of paper, you can simply snap an image of the board. Afterwards you can edit the text from the whiteboard as you see fit, adding in your own notes or ideas.

How to get Microsoft Office Lens app

If you use an iOS device, you can download the app for free on iTunes.

As for Android, a fully functional version of the app is not yet readily available. However, you can get a preview version by joining the “Office Lens Android Preview” community on Google +. There you can sign up to become a tester.

Want to learn more about Office Lens and other Office products? Send us a message today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 10th, 2015

MobileGeneral_Apr10_AWe’ve all become accustomed to controlling our touchscreen smart phones with our fingers. It is something which just a few years ago seemed unthinkable, as we were grappling with now ancient looking Nokia models. Now the next revolution is on the way - Samsung has recently patented new technology that, if it comes to fruition, will see your phone respond to eye movement as a way of controlling what it does.

Some devices, both from Samsung and other manufacturers, already have security features which enable you to scan your face as a way to unlock your phone. This is the kind of eye control function that we might expect from future Samsung devices employing the technology that is the subject of the company’s latest patent. The patent doesn’t limit the application of this technology to phones, either, meaning that we could well see it deployed on devices like tablets, desktop computers and even televisions.

Imagine being able to play a song in your phone’s music streaming application, simply by blinking. Blink a second time and you could pull up various information about the song and artist - other movements allow you to activate further features in the app, whether that’s increasing the volume, pausing, rewinding or downloading other songs by the same artist. The patent lists eye movements including blinking, keeping them closed, and gazing at one spot for a prolonged period, each of which would be linked to specific in-device actions.

The race to implement technology to enable visual control of cell phones is not a new one - back in 2013, LG accused Samsung of having infringed on one of its eye-tracking patents with features available on the Samsung Galaxy 4S. Prior to the launch of the 4S, LG alleged that the phone’s Smart Pause function, which automatically pauses video when you take your eyes off the screen, violated a patent the company had applied for in 2009, and which covered the same technology on its Optimus G Pro device. However, when the 4S was eventually released, the Smart Pause and Smart Scroll features - the latter of which allows for browser and email scrolling without touching the screen - relied on facial recognition rather than eye tracking.

Similar features are available on Apple devices, and intended primarily for those with motor difficulties. Switch Control allows you to connect a switch to your iOS device for easier access, while since iOS 7.1 it has also been possible to use the device’s camera as a head switch, and then customize the settings to define head movements and which actions they trigger. Nonetheless, the ongoing innovations being attempted by firms like Samsung mean that this kind of device control is likely to become even more common and mainstream in the near future.

To find out how we can help you use the latest mobile technology in your business to drive productivity and greater revenue, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 9th, 2015

164_A_MWIf Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera were at a cocktail party, Internet Explorer would probably be the butt of all their jokes. That’s not to say Internet Explorer never served a purpose, but it clearly has not kept up with the likes of today’s modern browsers. Microsoft knows this, which is why they’re releasing a new browser later this year. The name of it is Spartan, and there are some nifty features that may just revolutionize the way you use the web.

What is Spartan?

Spartan is Microsoft’s new web browser that will be released later this year along with Windows 10. Microsoft’s aim is to build a browser that is designed for the modern web, which creates a more personable experience when interacting with it. Here are few of the incredible changes Spartan has in store.

Web Note

Also known as inking, Web Note allows you to edit web pages directly. You can do this by either typing them or using an interactive pen that allows you to literally circle, underline, or annotate pages as you see fit. These annotations can then be shared with friends and colleagues via email or social networking. They’ll also be stored on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage for easy collaboration.

Reading View

A web page can be a busy place, and the guys at Microsoft know that. That’s why they’ve created Reading View, which provides distraction-free reading to keep you focused on the content. Reading View eliminates ads, fancy CSS styling, sidebars and comments, creating a simple format that feels as if you’re looking at an open book.

Cortana, your new personalized assistant

More and more phones are enabling their devices with personal assistants, so why not web browsers? Cortana is designed to make your web browsing experience easier and more personalized. For example if you’re looking up a business or restaurant, Cortana can provide additional information such as opening hours, address and contact info. Another nifty feature of Cortana allows you to get a definition or content explanation without leaving your current page. Just highlight the word, right click and select Ask Cortana. She’ll provide you with the info you’re looking for, right there on your web page.

Want to learn more about Spartan or other Microsoft Windows News and tips? Call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 8th, 2015

164_A_ProdMost of us have this fantasy that technology is going to make everything better automatically. But is that really true? When you stop and take a moment to reflect, does checking your email ten times a day, keeping your break/fix contractor on speed dial, or purchasing yet another workflow app really make your business more productive? The easy answer to these questions is almost certainly no. And, while we’re on the subject, here are a few more questions you need to ask yourself to ensure your technology is speeding up your productivity, not slowing it down.

Is this making my job easier or harder?

There’s no questioning that technology can make our lives better and our jobs easier, but it can also make everything more difficult. Here are a few ways it can slow you down:
  • Distraction - From email to Facebook to Skype or Gchat, technology can be a 24-hour distraction. If you are constantly switching between technology apps and programs - whatever your reason - you’ll certainly end up in a state of distraction, causing your productivity to take a hit.
  • Too complex - Some technology is simply too complex for the average user. To fix this problem, either use technology that is more user-friendly, or leave your IT guy to the job.
  • Too much - There are simply hundreds and thousands of apps and programs that can be used to make your workflow and job easier, but if you use too many you’ll likely be slowed down as you bounce between them all. The trick is to use only what you need, and nothing more.

Does my tech work?

This is almost a no-brainer. Your tech needs to work in order for you to reach your maximum productivity. If you’re still using a break/fix contractor and you’re calling him every other week, is this increasing or inhibiting your productivity? The answer is pretty obvious - it’s probably slowing you down. So what do you do? You need to get a more effective technology solution that is going to “just work”.

If you’re a small business owner, one way to do this is through managed services. This is a hands-off solution where an MSP handles all your IT, usually for a fixed monthly fee, so you never have to think about it. MSPs are proactive about preventing problems from ever occurring in the first place, meaning you’ll have fewer IT issues creating disruption and downtime in your workday.

Is this tech job my responsibility?

Just because you know how to troubleshoot a broken application, does that mean you should? If you’re a business owner or have a job role outside of the tech department, it will benefit you in the long run to leave the job to the tech team. Why? It’s for the same reason the owner of a restaurant doesn’t mop the floors or clean the toilets. They have better things to do with their time, and so do you. You have a specific role for a reason, and you’re creating the most value for your company when you stick to that role. Do yourself and the tech team a favor and leave the tech alone; you have a business to run.

Want more ideas on how to maximize your productivity and use technology to its greatest good? Give us a call and let’s talk today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity